31 Mar 2015

Could our big box store shopping habits be evolving for the better?

In recent weeks Barrie learned that its short lived Target Canada outlet will be shutting down for good along with 133 more of its American owned mega retail outlets across Canada. In a similarly motivated move we learned this week that Future Shop, formerly a Canadian electronics chain absorbed by the American electronics retail chain Best Buy in 2001, is closing its doors on 66 of its Canadian locations. I want to believe we can read deeper into what these two events mean, beyond the immediate impact these shutdowns hold for those who have found themselves unfortunately and suddenly out of a job. 

Our shopping habits have evolved dramatically in my lifetime. A weekend agenda in my home growing up included trips to typically family owned local stores, the butcher shop, the bakery. A drive to the vegetable markets out on highway 11 or in the Holland Marsh. An afternoon visit with dad to the hardware store. All to satisfy purchase needs that today for the most part are serviced with one trip to a Walmart, Zehrs or Costco. For that convenience we have learned to often accept a compromise on quality, service, freshness and the likelihood that we are supporting a locally owned establishment while at the same time buying domestically produced goods. 

Target was Barrie's most recent international mega chain store to appear, adding to a retail climate where setting up shop to fulfill consumer demands not being served in the area is less the objective than stealing away market share from the competition and ultimately forcing rival businesses to fail. Big box mega chain stores use many what can only be considered draconian business tactics to conquer and survive and in doing so, they have changed the dynamics of commerce, communities and entire economies.

One can only hope the closing of these two mega chain stores is a signal of a long over due behavioural shift of the buying public in favour of a more personalized shopping experience. The loss of one Future Shop creates opportunity and an environment for numerous smaller, more specialized stores to once again exist. 

The chance for an entire generation that has only ever known that feeling of insignificance, standing totally alone with a query in a half mile long store isle to learn, maybe for the first time, what genuine personalized customer service feels like. The chance for a reemergence of entrepreneurial opportunity lost to deliberately infused bigger is better consumer beliefs long ago. 

The doughnut effect that took us and our spending money out of the downtown's and into the outlying shopping malls and big box chain stores hopefully has hit its peak. The reversal of that tide would be a good and welcomed change for all of us in the long run.

19 Mar 2015

Last month 3rd best for Barrie and area real estate sales.

 Barrie and District home sales post third best ever February 

Residential property sales recorded through the MLS® System of the Barrie & District Association of REALTORS® Inc. numbered 335 units in February 2015. This was an increase of 13.9 per cent from February 2014. 

Within the City of Barrie, sales activity rose 17.1 per cent on a year-over-year basis. The City of Barrie saw 205 residential sales in February. A year-over-year increase of 9.2 per cent was recorded in surrounding areas, where sales activity totalled 130 units. 

“The market has been quite active to start the year, with sales last month hitting their third best February level on record behind 2012 and 2002,” said Bruce Shipley, President of the Barrie and District Association of REALTORS®. “With months of supply running near record lows, sellers are in the driver’s seat heading into the busy spring market, and prices are likely to continue to push higher.” 

The year-to-date average price for all homes sold via the Association’s MLS® System in 2015 was $343,509, up 4.8 per cent from the same period in 2014. 

The year-to-date average price figure for homes sold within the City of Barrie was $319,152. This was a four per cent increase compared to the year-to-date average selling price in 2014. The year-to-date average price figure for the surrounding areas was $379,553, an increase of 6.6 per cent from the year-to-date average selling price in 2014. 

The Barrie & District Association of REALTORS® cautions that over a period of time, the use of average price information can be useful in establishing trends, but it does not indicate actual prices in widely divergent areas or account for price differentials between geographical areas. 

The dollar value of all home sales in February 2015 was $116 million, rising 18.2 per cent from year-ago levels. This was a record for the month of February. 

February saw another increase in new supply. New supply has risen by double-digits on a year-over-year basis in nine of the past 10 months. New residential listings rose 23.4 per cent from February 2014 to 616 units in February 2015. 

Overall supply remains below most of the past decade. Active residential listings on the Association’s MLS® System numbered 1,036 units at the end of February 2015, up 4.4 per cent from year-ago levels. 

There were 3.1 months of inventory at the end of February 2015. This was flirting with a record low for this time of the year. The number of months of inventory is the number of months it would take to sell current inventories at the current rate of sales activity. 

Sales of all property types in the Barrie region numbered 352 units in February, rising 17.3 per cent compared to February 2014. The total value of all properties sold in February 2015 was $119 million, up 20.1 per cent on a year-over-year basis. 
The Barrie and District Association of REALTORS® Inc. covers a geographical area that includes the City of Barrie and part or all of the surrounding townships, including 

Springwater, Oro-Medonte, Innisfil, Essa, Bradford-West Gwillimbury and Clearview. 

6 Mar 2015

Spring home projects you should be getting ready for

The sun is rising a little earlier and taking a little longer to set each day. The snow that lines our driveways and roads will inevitably give way to green grass and blossoming gardens. The bbq's and patio furnishings will come out of hibernation and once again we will turn our focus to the outside of our homes.

Nothing sounds better after the winter we have endured than sitting back on the patio with friends and family and a pitcher of margaritas but before we get there, there are a few projects to tackle to get your home into top form again.


Yard work
Regardless of the number of bags of leaves you put by the curb last fall there are sure to be more that fell between you putting the rake away and getting out the snow shovel. Give the lawn a once over and rake out the gardens readying them for mulch and compost. 
Applying a layer of compost will replace some nutrients in the soil. Follow this with a covering of mulch. Mulch gives your gardens that professionally landscaped look and helps hold in moisture on the hottest of summer days. It also helps prevent rain erosion and weed growth.
Schedule your vegetable, herb and flower planting. Each has their own time lines for planting and growth. Prepare yourself with a little research and a calendar to mark out the best planting times.


The forces of winter have been at work around the clock for the past few months. Take a walk around the grounds of your home and make some notes. Do the driveways patios and walkways need sweeping and maybe a good power washing?  Check the chimney and vents, the shingles, eaves and downspouts to see if they have remained in tact.  Have the window and door frames, sills and caulking held up? Are there any new nests or places critters or insects might see as an invitation to join you inside? Has any brick mortar come loose? Do the gutters need a good cleaning? 

Window Cleaning

Nothing brightens up a home and its occupants like crisp clean windows. While you are doing them take note of how the frames and caulking are holding out. If you have wood frames be sure the paint is in tact and if not, give them a fresh coat to seal out moisture and keep them from rotting.
On the Inside
Carpets, rugs and even drapery cleaning is best done when it is warm enough to open the windows for quicker drying. Same goes for giving your floors a good wall to wall washing and tackling any indoor painting projects you need to do.
Schedule a weekend for taking a trip to the landfill, the goodwill and for holding a garage sale. This will set you in motion to purge the items in the house and garage that have outlived their usefulness. 
Reno time
Has a kitchen or bathroom renovation been on your list for a while? Why not do it now and get past it before summer arrives? Much of the prep work for projects this size is best done in the garage or even on the patio. The noise, traffic and restricted access is easier to deal with when you can slip away to take a walk or grab dinner on a patio, rather than in the dead of winter when we are more or less trapped inside.
Put your winter stored energy to work before the lazy days of summer get here and have a good 2015.

22 Feb 2015

Strait up advice for encouraging strong offers and a quicker home sale.

A good cleaning and de-cluttering before the sign goes on the lawn is essential in setting the right tone with potential buyers who will be scrutinizing all aspects of your home when they visit.  This alone though won't likely be enough to bring in maximum dollar potential from your home's sale. What then are the magic bullets that will bring the buyers to the table and keep them there to the rightful conclusion of negotiations?

Cleaning, painting, purging and sticking a bouquet of flowers on the dining room table are all good, but buyers are most concerned with the bones of your house, not just the skin.  You want them to be focusing on how their furnishing will fit in and how they will decorate as they walk through your home, not making a to do list and adding up the additional cash they are going to have to spend on improvements.

Things that often cause home buyers to pass on a home or try and use to negotiate a lower sale price:

Windows:  Replacing windows that are more than 20 year old, especially wood framed windows that have deteriorated, will eliminate one of the bigger red flags buyers often raise.  A compromise is to replace any panes that are broken or are fogged because the seals are broken.  A scraper, some caulking, wood filler and a fresh coat of paint can give wood frames extended life.  At the very least clean your windows! Dirty paint marked windows only leave buyers wondering what else is being ignored.

Roofs & eaves troughs:  Buyers don't want to be putting out thousands of dollars for a new roof soon after buying their new home.  If the condition of your roof is detracting from the appeal of the house, chances are you will pay for it regardless, as it is likely to impact on the quality of offers you receive.  Your home's roof is one of the first things buyers notice as they pull up and it can set the tone for the rest of the showing. The majority of potential buyers will move on to the next home on their search list when the roof is in need of replacing.  Additionally it is a good idea to replace or repair damaged or loose flashing, fascia and eaves troughs and insure that they are clean and doing their job protecting the interior of the house from the elements and diverting water away from the home.

Bannisters & deck rails:  Aside from a potential safety issue, loose rails or bannisters can give many the impression of an uncared for home.  Around a third of inspection reports I see list wobbly railings  and bannisters as an issue.  It doesn't take much to fix them and isn't worth the risk of having them impact on what a buyer is willing to pay.

Basements:  I have had many good showings fall apart when we reach the basement and there is that unmistakable musty smell and damp feel.  Often you don't see the source of the moisture which then leads to mould concerns with potential buyers.  Moisture meters and infra red cameras that many of the better home inspectors use can usually pinpoint sources of moisture or water penetration into a homes foundation.  It is best to have the source identified and the problem corrected before listing.

Often the remedy is a reworking of sunk in ground around the home's parimetre so that water is directed away rather than towards the home when it rains. Repositioning or extending of downspouts may be all that is required. If left unchecked over time you may find yourself faced with a much more expensive task of having to trench the exterior of the foundation and install a membrane and or reparge the concrete.  Many basements are just damp by nature.  In this case, running dehumidifiers will eliminate much of the dampness and odor. If odors persists, you should be able to eliminate them completely (not just mask them) by running an ozone generator for a day or two.  There are many companies that offer this service.

Flooring:  A generation that represents more than half of all buyers today puts carpeting in the same category as 8-track stereos and wood paneling. New flooring can refashion your home from looking like the set of the Brady Bunch into a more stylish up to date pad that first time buyers can envision themselves living in.  New hardwood or engineered flooring can be installed inside of a day in most average sized homes and there are always sales to be found on flooring materials.

Lighting:  Replace the dim and burned out bulbs and brighten up your home with new energy efficient lighting. Dimly lit homes don't inspire buyers.

Summary:  Think hard on replacing or repairing where required. Once we have lived in a home for a number of years we tend to filter what we see down to just the things we need to see day in day out. What lies between the bed, the bathroom and the coffee pot in the kitchen goes unnoticed at 7am and many of the things that may have slowly deteriorated or become outdated over time get filtered out.

Bring in some fresh eyes before you list. Get the advise and opinions of friends you trust to be strait up with you. Bring in a Realtor, a home stager/decorator, inspector and ask for their critiques.  Make a list of the feedback and suggestions and set to work on making your home saleable, or be prepared to be given a list of fixes revealed in the buyer's home inspector report, and expected to be completed by you before closing.  You will be able to absorb many if not all improvement costs within the price you can then ask for your home. The quality of offers you receive and the time it takes to sell hangs in the balance.

22 Jan 2015

Barrie - A Changing Economy

In the 15 years since the closing of the Molson Brewery in Barrie, the city has embarked on an economic transformation. Its focus includes the creation of a high-skilled, entrepreneurial workforce. TVO's The Agenda examines what Barrie has done and what the city still needs to do to accomplish this goal. The second of two programs recorded live in Barrie, Ontario.

13 Jan 2015

A Look Back at the 2014 Barrie Real Estate Market

2014 second best year ever for Barrie and District home sales 


Residential property sales recorded through the MLS® System of the Barrie & District Association of REALTORS® Inc. numbered 197 units in December 2014. This was a small decline of two per cent (four sales) from December 2013. 

Within the City of Barrie sales activity edged down 1.7 per cent (two sales) on a year-over-year basis. The City of Barrie saw 116 residential sales in December. A year-over-year decrease of 2.4 per cent was recorded in surrounding areas, where sales activity totalled 81 units. A total of 4,795 homes traded hands in 2014, up 3.2 per cent from 2013. 

“2014 was the second best year ever for home sales in the Barrie region, surpassed only by 2007,” said Bruce Shipley, President of the Barrie and District Association of REALTORS®. “The market remained tight in 2014, and that led to the largest year-over-year price increase in nine years.” 

The annual average price for all homes sold via the Association’s MLS® System in 2014 was a record $341,023, up 7.3 per cent from 2013. The annual average price figure for homes sold within the City of Barrie was $319,558. This was a 6.6 per cent increase compared to the average selling price in 2013. The annual average price figure for the surrounding areas was $371,671, an increase of 7.8 per cent from 2013.

The Barrie & District Association of REALTORS® cautions that over a period of time, the use of average price information can be useful in establishing trends, but it does not indicate actual prices in widely divergent areas or account for price differentials between geographical areas.

The dollar value of all home sales in December 2014 was $68.3 million, rising 17.5 per cent from year-ago levels. This was a record for the month of December. December posted another increase in new supply after the decline in November. New supply has risen by double-digit figures on a year-over-year basis in seven of eight past months. New residential listings rose 22.3 per cent from December 2013 to 252 units in December 2014. 
Overall supply remains below most of the past decade. Active residential listings on the Association’s MLS® System numbered 828 units at the end of December 2014, down 2.2 per cent from year-ago levels. There were 4.2 months of inventory at the end of December 2014. This was unchanged from the end of December 2013 and stood below the long-run average for this time of year. The number of months of inventory is the number of months it would take to sell current inventories at the current rate of sales activity. 

Sales of all property types in the Barrie region numbered 202 units in December, down 5.6 per cent compared to December 2013. The total value of all properties sold in December 2014 was $69.7 million, up 14.2 per cent on a year-over-year basis. 

The Barrie and District Association of REALTORS® Inc. covers a geographical area that includes the City of Barrie and part or all of the surrounding townships, including Springwater, Oro-Medonte, Innisfil, Essa, Bradford-West Gwillimbury and Clearview. The Association provides continuing education, Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®), statistical information, and many other services to its members. 

17 Aug 2014

Remembering the August 2003 Blackout

11 years ago this past week, just after 4pm on Thursday August 14th 2003, the power went out in Barrie. Many still recall where they were at that moment. That hot sunny afternoon I was downtown Barrie at a friend's TV and Electronics repair store when his radio went silent, the TVs in the showroom went dark and the background hum of the air conditioner was replaced by total silence. Driving home unable to tune any radio stations, coupled with every traffic light being out along the way were the first indicators that this might be more than just a localized event. As I pulled into my neighbourhood I could see numerous conversations taking place at the ends of driveways, people confirming what they were starting to realize, that this was an event of some proportion.

What stands out most in my memory of the few days that followed isn't the nuisance of having no modern electronic conveniences or being disconnected from the world, it is the irony of the reality that this event had the complete opposite effect of magically connecting us with one another.

That first starlit evening I found myself in a candle lit circle of lawn chairs with 18 or so of my neighbours. The air was laden with the smell of barbecue, the unusually silent night broken only by random bursts of laughter coming from neighbouring streets and cricket chirps. The extent of my accord with many of my neighbours prior to that weekend was the acknowledging waves or nods we shared out of reflex from our driveways or as one of us passed the others house while one was out front.

There was no sense of concern or frustration at our predicament, the mood was instead more like you would find with a group of people gathered at a vacation resort, and for many of the same reasons, we had left our day to day routines behind for a while and had no choice but to live in and enjoy the moment.

The awareness that this bond was simultaneously repeating itself millions of times over in communities across the eastern seaboard provided an odd sense of  connection. All of us getting a first hand feel for how I imagine communities once interacted before televisions, telephones and computers began to pull us away from one another. That time long ago when interacting required sharing the same physical space and we all made the efforts to do so. It was an interesting phenomenon and a definite cause for pause.

We learned more about our neighbours and possibly ourselves that weekend than we were ever likely too otherwise. Once the power began to come back early the following week we quickly returned to our pre-black out routines. The connections we managed in those few days lingered for a short while, some of them even longer. Perhaps we are due for another.

1 Jun 2014

Barrie Ontario - May 31st 1985

May 31st 1985 is a date that begins conversations of detailed stories and recall when mentioned amongst long time Barrie Residents. That was the day when Barrie residents learned first hand what being in the path of a tornado is about. 
It was a day that demonstrated how the things that divide and distinguish us all from one another suddenly matter no more when faced collectively with a catastrophic event with the power to change a community in just a few minutes. That hot and humid Friday afternoon my long time friend Stan and myself had jumped on our bikes and were headed north from Toronto up the 400 hwy for a weekend at Stan's cottage on the Severn river with a dinner stop planned along the way in Barrie. 
The northbound  Hwy 400 traffic was almost as heavy then on a friday afternoon as it is today. It looked like the start of a warm sunny weekend but once we reached the long flat stretch of the Holland Marsh you could see a line of dark cloud stretching north to south a mile or so to the west and heading our way. The black soil of the marsh came to an abrupt end in the distance where the edge of the storm was moving towards us like a blue grey curtain. 
Barrie tornado
The storm eventually merged with the 400 hwy around the Cookstown exit turning the day dark as night in just a few seconds. The traffic slowed, the wind whipped up and we found ourselves being pelted from the left with a monsoon like downpour that stung as it hit.
Lightening flashed every couple seconds and the rumble of thunder was steady. Imagine going through an automated carwash on a motorcycle with a 70 mile per hour wind thrown in as an added test. You could not see the cars ahead, just the tail lights, barely visible through the rain and the wake from their tires as the water hit the road faster than it could run away. The rain lasted no more than 5 minutes then gave way as fast as it came to the bright hot sun once again.
The pace of the traffic picked up once more and we continued on, our clothes and our gear completely soaked. When we hit the point where the Molson's  Beer store exit once was just around what is the Mapleview Drive exit today, the traffic ahead of us came to a sudden dead stop. The Essa road exit we were heading for lay just beyond the crest of the road so we decided we would drive along the shoulder passing the stopped traffic until we hit the highway exit. 
As you hit a certain point around the highway rest stop and gas station just south of Essa Road you suddenly have a clear view of West Barrie in the valley below. But instead of the expected vista of our home town we were bombarded with a fast series of surreal images that are etched in memory. For me it was the quick realization that the tractor trailer lying on its side across the Essa Road exit was the cause of the traffic jam. A simple enough deduction for a second anyway until I noticed the movement of horses wandering between the cars on the highway just beyond. Steam was rising from the road in the brilliant sunlight and people were out of their cars some standing, some running, some wandering aimlessly along with the horses among the cars which I then noticed were pointing in random directions. 
My glance then went towards the Barrie Raceway grounds to the east of the highway were I figured the horses had escaped from to see that many of the horse buildings there were levelled. My awestruck gaze continued to pan to the right and up the hill to the side of the Holiday Inn. The entire hillside where Tim Horton's,  Pizza Hut and Wendy's stand today, looked like a landfill site covered completely in the debris of shattered homes, businesses and their former contents.
It was a mere few seconds of observation that contained more lasting and vivid detail than anything else I have witnessed in my lifetime. We stopped our bikes and just gazed on what 20 minutes earlier was the familiar landscape where Stan and myself grew up but was now totally unrecognizable.

Emergency vehicles continued arriving to the area and sirens sounded from all directions as we weaved around bent and scattered vehicles, abandoned and pointing every which way, appliances, splintered 2 by 4's, window frames, doors and snapped power lines. Bits of hay and straw were everywhere along with sections of steel barn roofing carried along by the twister from miles to the west to their resting places wrapped around trees street signs and lamp posts (some pine trees behind homes on Moon Drive still have metal wrapped around them with the bark grown over it) 
While larger items were crushed and often hard to identify, many smaller items of every sort found in a home remained in tact and scattered everywhere you looked. Trees not laid flat or broken completely off at the base in the tornados path were strewn with paper, clothing, bedding, bits of pink insulation and even larger items, one had a toilet resting in the v of 2 large branches 20 feet off the ground. 
I saw a car on its wheels sitting in what I believe was once the living-room of a raised bungalow. The roof and the front of the home were gone but strangely beside the car was an end table with a lamp still sitting on it.
The visuals came faster than the mind could comprehend and though much of that day is crystal clear, much of it remains a blur. We made our way through Allandale Heights where many of our high school mates still lived. There were people alone and in groups frantically sorting through the remains of homes while others just stood gazing in shock holding onto family, friends or neighbours. Others just wandered aimlessly through the debris looking as though their senses had been stripped away from them.
My friend and I spent the next week and many weekends after that helping people sort their lives out and within a year it was amazing to see how peoples lives  and the City had returned to normal as neighbourhoods were cleaned of debris and homes and businesses were rebuilt. Today there are few visible signs of that day but many thousands of personal stories that live on with the people who were part of the1985 Barrie Tornado. 

15 Apr 2014

Barrie Ontario in the 1940's - Captured in Video

Barrie has come a long way. This series of videos collected by Travis Doucette and shared on youtube gives a good sense of what living in Barrie was like right after WWII in the mid 1940's.

13 Apr 2014

Does your home make a good first impression?

Making your home stand out for all the right reasons is money in the bank for you.

Realtors and the endless numbers of cable shows, magazines and online sites keep referring to it as "curb appeal". It's house appeal to be specific, and it is of primary importance if you want to sell your home in a timely manor and for a price you are comfortable with. Our brains hate to be undecided, we need to latch on to a reason to like or not like, trust or be cautious at the very earliest opportunity.

For home buyers that scrutiny begins as soon as they are within viewing distance of a home being considered. Your home will be sized up from that moment, and before a potential buyer begins to add up all that is right with the kitchen, bath, back yard and rec-room, they are forming a lasting opinion based on an all important initial reaction which sets the tone for the entire viewing.

When you are done reading this, go outside and walk to the end of the driveway. Stand at the street directly in front of your house and look at it. 

Force yourself not to be distracted by the great job you did of trimming the hedge or how your rose bush had more flowers than the Peterson's next door last year. Buyers won't care either that you risked life and limb to clean out the eaves troughs a week earlier. Strip your temptation to complement yourself and your house completely from your mind. Now count up the number of items that could easily be replaced with better items or improved with a little effort. Start with the front door and work outward from there. Is there another colour you have seen on a door somewhere that would work on yours to make it stand out a little more?

What about the hardware, the lock and kick plate,  are they original and looking a little dated and tired? Is your mail box boring and like every other that the builder provided? What about the lighting fixtures, do they bring any words to mind besides "functional" or "adequate"? Is the street numbering boring or does it reflect the owner's pride in the home? Ask the same of the door mat, flower pots, window boxes, chairs, tables if any. Is the porch and walk way clean and crisply edged, free from cracks and weeds coming up through?

Are the windows as clean as can be and free from cracks or fogging? Are the sills and frames clean, freshly caulked and free of pealing paint? Are the eaves troughs tightly secured, the roof free of curling shingles, the driveway free of oil stains, the garage door clean and freshly painted? Are your gardens free of weeds with fresh mulch that contrasts nicely with the bright healthy flowers and a nice new set of solar garden lights? Are the bushes, shrubs and trees manicured and not over grown and taking away from everything else visually? Is your lawn over-seeded, green, trimmed and free of weeds and bald spots? 

Ask yourself would the parks department hire you based on how your lawn and gardens stand out? If the answer isn't a quick confident "you bet" then there is work to do. What if the same parks department offered you and your family $10,000 to spend the next two weeks after work and on weekends making the front of your property look like it belongs on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, would you sign on? Most would see that as a sweet deal. That may be the financial equivalent of what doing these things is worth to the sale of your home.

Every thing else about your home is important as well but without setting the tone and mood before anyone even steps through the door, you risk loosing the enthusiasm to buy your home with the majority of people who will visit or at best you might be setting yourself up for weaker offers than you hope to see.

Start making that list. Decide on what it is going to cost, keeping in mind that many of the things you invest in you will have the option to take with you to your next home. Keep in mind that the buyer of your home is not just counting on your efforts, they are going to be paying you for them. Now get to work.